Same-sex couples begin applying for marriage licenses in N.J.

Gabrielle (left) and Valerie Newman-Freeman from Pennsauken talk to Collingswood Mayor James Maley, who told them they must get their license from their local government offices on Monday.
Gabrielle (left) and Valerie Newman-Freeman from Pennsauken talk to Collingswood Mayor James Maley, who told them they must get their license from their local government offices on Monday.
Posted: October 21, 2013

COLLINGSWOOD Sherry Kilpatrick brought champagne and snapped photos of her longtime friends, Steven Burch and Stephen Drayton, who were the first same-sex couple to apply Saturday for a marriage license at the Collingswood Community Center.

Burch, 53, and Drayton, 57, have been together 14 years and plan to marry in a ceremony with other same- sex couples at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill on Saturday.

One day after the New Jersey Supreme Court refused Friday to block a lower-court ruling allowing same-sex marriages, 15 couples applied for licenses between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Collingswood. Mayor James Maley opened the center on Collings Avenue near the farmers market as a convenience to residents.

Ten same-sex couples filed marriage applications in Lambertville on Saturday morning. Mayor David DelVecchio will officiate at the first wedding at 12:01 a.m. Monday, and Lambertville municipal offices were to open at 12:01 Sunday to accept applications.

The Collingswood couples expressed euphoria and joy with hugs and tears.

"It means recognition of our relationship by the government," said Burch, a customer-service representative with a publishing company. "It's security - financial as well as mental," said Drayton, who works in information technology at Aramark.

Maley will wed two same-sex couples at 6 p.m. Monday. "It's been such a long haul," he said. "It's like planes that have been waiting to land. All the people that this means something to have been in relationships for 10, 15, 20 years. They just want to get their legal benefits squared away."

New Jersey residents must apply for licenses in the municipalities in which they live. Those who came from neighboring towns Saturday, including Valerie and Gabrielle Newman-Freeman of Pennsauken, were told to go to their local government offices on Monday.

Out-of-state couples can obtain marriage licenses in New Jersey, but they have to marry in the communities that granted the licenses.

Mark Henderson, 49, a student and event planner, and Charles Dowdy, 48, of Collingswood, who works at Independence Blue Cross, plan to marry at 6 p.m. Friday, joined by their adopted children, ages 13, 9, and 5.

"I never thought this day would come," Dowdy said. "Now we can explain to our children that our family has the same standing legally as other families. That means a lot."

Beverly Shepherd, 62, a software analyst, and Laurel Burns, 55, a former paralegal, moved to Collingswood from Denver. "We weren't sure this would happen in our lifetime," said Shepherd. The couple planned to ask Maley to marry them Tuesday.

Heather and Jennifer Hayes, both schoolteachers, said they will marry on their daughter, Liliana's, first birthday Saturday in their backyard in Collingswood.

"This means that our family is just like everyone else's family," said Heather, 38. "You'd be surprised how the word spouse opens doors."

"We just got 1,038 rights that we didn't have before," she said. "When we filed taxes, in New Jersey we could file married, but federally we had to file as single. We'll be acknowledged federally now. If I die, Jennifer won't have to pay inheritance tax on the house. Little things like that."


lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831

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